Saturday, June 18, 2011

Governor Signs Three LGBT-Related Bills

Governor Rick Perry has signed three bills dealing with issues important to the LGBT community: HB 1942, HB 1386 and HB 2229. All three bills were passed during the Legislature's 81st regular session.

HB 1942, by Diane Patrick (R-Arlington), is designed to address bullying in Texas Public Schools. The bill allows schools to include information on preventing bullying to be included in staff development training and permits school administrators to transfer bullies to different campuses or classes than their victims (under current code only the victim may be transferred). It requires the State Board of education to include information on "awareness, prevention, identification, self-defense in response to, and resolution of and intervention in bullying and harassment" in the curriculum developed for health classes in public schools. It also requires school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies that protect people who report bullying and contain clear policies on how accusations of bullying will be addressed and creates a standard definition of bullying in the education code. (The definition of bullying created by HB 1942 is extremely narrow: in order to qualify as bullying the behavior must take place on a school campus, at a school sponsored event or in a school owned vehicle; it must physically harm another student or that student's property or threaten to do so; it must also be "severe, persistent, and pervasive;" "exploit an imbalance of power" and disrupt the educational environment.) HB 1942 does not acknowledge in any way the existence of queer students or that they are particularly targeted for bullying.

HB 1386, by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), addresses the epidemic of teen suicide. The bill requires the State Department of Health to annually compile a list of programs and resources designed to address teen suicide. That list must then be made available to school districts which may, but are not required to, implement programs they feel are appropriate for their districts. Programs on the Department of Health's list must provide resources to assist in identifying youth at risk for suicide, and provide resources for addressing that risk. The training provided by the programs must be created for both teachers and other school staff that regularly interact with students such as law enforcement professionals and school nurses. HB 1386 does not acknowledge that LGBT youth are at particular risk of suicide.

HB 2229, also by Coleman, makes permanent the state's HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that assists low-income HIV-positive people with obtaining medication. The Advisory Committee is made up of health professionals and current or former clients of the program and provides on-the-ground advice on how the program should be run. The committee was previously formed by the Department of State Health Services. Since its existence was only created by agency rule the head of the agency, Commissioner Dr. David Lakey, was able to dissolve the committee earlier this year. After public outcry the committee was reformed. HB 2229 insures that only the legislature, and not the agency commissioner, has the power to dissolve the committee in the future.

It's heartening that Perry choose to sign these bills. Under the Texas Constitution the governor has 30 days after a bill is passed to either sign or veto a bill, if he does not sign the bill it becomes law anyway without his signature. There was never any indication from the Governor's office that he might veto these bills, but he still had the option of letting them become law without his signature, providing him political cover if he felt his support of the bills might become a liability. Perry's signature shows how noncontroversial these bills are. It also shows how mainstream issues like bullying and HIV prevention are if they are not connected to the queer community. While the passage of these three bills is a victory, the absence of any mention in them to LGBT people is a reminder that support for the community is still political poison in Texas.

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